A veteran, federal immigration official based in Orange County will face a March 2014 criminal trial for allegedly operating a scheme that supplied fake documents to Cambodians in exchange for bribes.
Billy Louis Nelms, a Santa Ana-based immigration officer in the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), requested bribes from at least five foreign nationals who'd illegally entered or violated the terms of their entry into the U.S., according to an indictment.
Federal prosecutors allege that Nelms used an as-yet-to-be identified co-conspirator, a Cambodian language interpreter and legal assistant to a Santa Ana immigration lawyer.
After soliciting the Cambodians for bribes ranging between $4,000 and $5,000 each, Nelms provided them officials stamps that falsely indicated lawful permanent residency status, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors also claim in court records that Nelms tried to mask his crimes by using stamps that belonged to other government officials or altered stamp numbers and, after learning of a possible criminal probe, removed at least 12 files from the immigration office.
Nelms--who was born in 1960--is free on $50,000 bail, but government officials are seeking pretrial custody because they claim he's already violated the terms of his release.
A new bail hearing with a magistrate judge is scheduled for Nov. 26 inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford will preside at Nelms' trial.
Nelms has published a website identifying himself as "a proud military veteran" and Christian seeking $100,000 in public donations for "emergency" legal fees because the government filed "a lawsuit" against him after he spent 2001 to 2009 "fighting racial profiling" by other immigration officials.
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Sources tell the Weekly that other Southern California immigration officials are under investigation for soliciting bribes from Vietnamese immigrants, who are accustomed to seeing government officials in their homeland demand payment to win favorable treatment or avoid punitive action.